Tea farmers wary of former KTDA directors’ impunity

A farmer plucking tea

A farmer plucking tea. Tea farmers want President William Ruto’s administration not to entertain the former directors, who were accused of abetting corruption and exploiting growers. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Tea farmers want President William Ruto’s administration not to entertain the former directors, who were accused of abetting corruption and exploiting growers. 
  • The farmers said they were concerned that following the invasion, no action was taken against the intruders despite the police being aware of the illegal activity.
  • Kenya Union of Small-Scale Tea Owners secretary-general Douglas Nkanata said after the reports were made, they expected the police to move into action and arrest the intruders.

The attempted takeover by ousted directors of the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) in Nairobi early this week citing a court order brought to the fore simmering opposition to sector reforms initiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.

The directors staged a well-coordinated “attempted takeover” of offices across the country, led by former chairman Peter Kanyago at the headquarters in Nairobi.

This jolted the tea sector, with farmers saying stern action should be taken against the directors and warning that their move threatens to derail reforms that have seen them benefit as cartels are kicked out of the sector.

They want President William Ruto’s administration not to entertain the former directors, who were accused of abetting corruption and exploiting growers. 

The farmers said they were concerned that following the invasion, no action was taken against the intruders despite the police being aware of the illegal activity.

Kenya Union of Small-Scale Tea Owners secretary-general Douglas Nkanata said after the reports were made, they expected the police to move into action and arrest the intruders.

“Despite the evidence of the directors forcing their way into offices of KTDA factories across the country, no action was taken. It was as though nothing happened. We wonder why this impunity was condoned,” Mr Nkanata told Sunday Nation in a phone interview.

Kenya Smallholder Tea Growers Association national chairman John Nteere alleged that some KTDA officials were working in cahoots with the former directors, saying they had launched internal investigations to establish who the culprits were.

“We know that they are not working alone and there are sympathisers of the former regime. We cannot allow them to derail reforms that are sweeping across the tea sector and which have worked in the interest of the farmer,” Mr Nteere said in an interview in Meru. 

During the opening of the Nairobi trade fair on Wednesday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua told the disgruntled directors to keep off KTDA affairs.

He said the government would not allow “impunity” to destabilise the tea sub-sector by interfering with the reforms started by the Kenyatta administration.

“...the attempt by former directors to take over factories is the height of impunity and the government will not allow that.”

The attempted “coup” triggered condemnations from KTDA management across the country, with directors in Embu, Meru and Nyeri warning that they were prepared for a head-on confrontation with the predecessors. 

In Meru, KTDA management said the former directors risked trespass charges, with directors from Imenti, Kiegoi, Micii Mikuru and Imenti factories condemning the move by Mr Kanyago’s team and terming it criminal.

Outgoing company secretary Patrick Ngunjiri said the High Court ordered a stay of the three consolidated petitions that are before a three-judge bench, noting that the stay is supposed to last until the conclusion of appeal cases.

“The court ordered that the appeal be fixed for hearing on a priority basis and it has not been allocated a hearing date up to now,” he said.

Mr Ngunjiri, who was present during the raid on the headquarters, said the former board was armed with an old court order claiming to be the legitimate board members.

“We engaged them on the illegality of their action and challenged them to adduce a court order and a notice from the registrar of companies. They had none and the police officers had to take them out.”

He added that the matter is in court and they will have to wait for its determination. But the former board questioned the legality of the current directors in KTDA’s 57 factories, saying last year’s elections were unlawful.

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